Heart on his sleeve, break-up balladry of the highest order. Getintothis’ Andy Kelly leaves Anfield early to catch one of Bella Union’s shining lights.
I don’t remember the last time I dived out of Anfield early (never understood the miss the traffic mob) but tonight I have to abandon the last five minutes of the Reds and Trabzonspor for a quick taxi dash across town.
Arriving at Static Gallery I grab a Red Stripe as the man responsible for one of my favourite records of the year is just finishing his first song of the night.
John Grant‘s Queen of Denmark has been slowly gathering plaudits for a few months now and he’s managed to attract a decentish crowd of around 150 into one of Liverpool’s best venues.
Accompanied by fellow American Casey Chandler and with sparse arrangements consisting only of guitar, piano and keyboards, the former Czars frontman is straight into his back catalogue with Drug, a suitable starting point for a man whose battles with addiction and depression are well documented.
Soon though we’re into the material most of us are more familiar with, several highlights from the Queen of Denmark record including Marz (a nostalgia filled tune, about a childhood sweet shop which still manages to sound a bit extra-terrestrial despite an intro so familiar it’s almost certainly a sample), Sigourney Weaver (those spacey, alien themes are back) and the lovely TC and Honeybear. Outer Space meanwhile is a movie soundtrack in waiting.
All the songs are performed with great simplicity, Grant (T-shirt and jeans if you care about those things) clutching his side as he sings, almost as if he’s got to dig the words out. His voice is a wonderful round warm thing, all beardy baritone, delivering some of the rawest, bleakest, self-doubting words you’ll hear anywhere. This is heart on his sleeve, break-up balladry of the highest order, Grant just doesn’t seem to know any other way.
Fireflies didn’t make the album he tells us because noone told him it was any good until it was too late, further evidence that the only man doubting Grant these days is himself. It’s a pity because it’s a real highlight tonight, an ode to his childhood days in Michigan which has that amazing sense of time and place which you get from, say, Jackson Browne‘s Running on Empty.
He’s back to his Czars days for Paint the Moon, song of the night for me, with a great line which probably sums up his work pretty well: ‘Paint the cool blue waves with slabs of grey, And don’t let me live my life this way, …without you‘ while Queen of Denmark has enough great lines for a dozen songs as he’s found his anger and tells another failed lover to ‘find somebody else to tell that they’re selfish.’
There’s a great warmth between the crowd and the stage all night with lots of banter flying, although a dodgy stage mic means it’s not always audible. Grant has already told us he’s not one for encores so it’s a straight through set but it still ends on a high.
He is reluctant to play Chicken Bones without full band backing but under strong urging from the crowd – ‘Play the Bones, John lad‘ goes the cry – he relents and delivers a truly memorable version, accompanied only by a beat supplied by the clapping crowd.
A few weeks earlier I had seen Grant on the main stage at Latitute Festival with full band, rather lost in the mid-afternoon sun. Here, returned to the familiar intimacy of the night, he’s a man transformed.
Liverpool’s triumph at Anfield was a slender 1-0 but at Static, John Grant’s was a 6-0 demolition job.
ps: The only downside to a great night was supplied by those who continue to think people have come to a gig to listen to them talking all the way through. Nobody wants a gig to be a library-like experience but seriously, shut the f*ck up or take it to the bar.